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"Mimi, I'm dying for you to see my dress," I say into the purple-rhinestone-studded cell phone. "It's this deep purple color with hand-painted scroll designs in gold on it. I have to be honest. I -- Divine Matthews-Hardison -- will be in all the magazines. I'll probably be listed in the top-ten best-dressed category."
Mimi laughs. "Me too. My dress is tight. It's silver and strapless and Lana Maxwell designed it."
"Oh, she's that new designer. Nobody really knows her yet." I'm hatin' on her because she's allowed to wear a strapless gown and I had to beg Mom for days to get her to let me wear a halter-style dress.
I make sure to keep my voice low so that the nosy man Mom claims is my dad can't hear my conversation. It's a wonder Jerome actually has a life of his own -- he's always trying to meddle in mine.
I can tell our limo is nearing the entrance of the Los Angeles Convention Center because I hear people screaming, and see the rapid flashing of cameras as diehard fans try to snap pictures of their favorite celebrities while others hold up signs. I'm glued to the window, checking out the growing sea of bystanders standing on both sides of the red carpet.
The annual Grammy Awards celebration is music's biggest night and the one major event I look forward to attending every year. Singers, actors and anyone really important will be present. Media coverage is heavy and I know as soon as I step out of the limo, the press is going to be all over me.
Settling back in the seat, I tell Mimi, "I'll talk to you when you get here. I need to make sure my hair is together. You know how these photographers are -- they're like always trying to snap an ugly picture of celebrities to send all over the world. That's the last thing I need -- some whack photo of me splashed all over the tabloids. See you in a minute. Bye."
Cameras flash and whirl as limo after stretch limo roll to a stop. I put away my phone and take out the small compact mirror I can't live without, making sure every strand of my hair is in place. A girl's gotta look her best, so I touch up my lips with Dior Addict Plastic Gloss in Euphoric Beige. I like this particular lip gloss because the color doesn't make my lips look shiny or too big in photographs.
I pull the folds of my gold-colored silk wrap together and blow a kiss to myself before slipping the mirror back into my matching gold clutch. I'm looking fierce, as my idol Tyra Banks loves to say on America's Next Top Model. To relieve some of the nervous energy I'm feeling, I begin tracing the pattern of my designer gown. This is my first time wearing what I consider a grown-up gown. I've never been able to wear backless before, but thankfully, my mom has a clue that I'm not a baby anymore. I'll be fifteen soon.
"Divine, honey, you look beautiful," Mom compliments. "Anya did a wonderful job designing this gown for you. It's absolutely perfect. Doesn't make you look too grown up."
My smile disappears. She just had to go there.
"Thanks." As an afterthought, I add, "You do too."
My mom, renowned singer and actress Kara Matthews, is up for several Grammys. On top of that, she's scored starring roles in three blockbuster movies, one of which will have her leaving in a couple of weeks to film the sequel in Canada. She can be pretty cool at times but then she goes and ruins it by going into Mom mode. To get even, I say and do things to wreck her nerves. Like . . .
"I hope I see Bow Wow tonight. He's so hot . . ." I can't even finish my sentence because the look on Mom's face throws me into giggles. My dad, Jerome, comes out of an alcohol-induced daze long enough to grumble something unintelligible.
He's never allowed me to call him daddy. Says it makes him feel old, so he insists that I call him Jerome.
Hellooo . . . get a clue. You are old.
It used to bother me that Jerome didn't want me calling him Dad when I was little. But after all the crazy stuff he's done, I'd rather not tell anyone he's related to me. Although I've never actually seen him drink or whatever, I've watched enough TV to know what an addict looks like. If I could sell him on eBay, I'd do it in a heartbeat. I can just picture the ad in my head.
Hollywood actor for sale. Okay-looking.
Used to be real popular until he started
drinking and doing drugs. By the way, he
really needs a family because he's on his
way out of this one. Bidding starts at one dollar.
Mom interrupts my plans to auction Jerome by saying, "Divine, I don't want you sniffing around those rap artists. You stay with me or Stella. I mean it. Don't go trying to sneak off like you usually do. I don't care if Dean Reuben lets Mimi run around loose. You better not!"
Mom and Jerome make a big deal for nothing over me talking to boys. Period. I'm fourteen and in the eighth grade. I'm not even allowed to date yet, so I don't know why they're always bugging whenever I mention meeting guys. I will admit I get a thrill out of the drama, so I figure giving them a scare every now and then can't hurt.
"You stay away from that Bow Wow," Jerome orders. "He's a nice kid, but you don't need to be up in his face. Don't let that fast tail Mimi get you in trouble."
This subject has so come and gone. All his drinking must be making him forgetful or something. Rolling my eyes heavenward, I pull out my cell phone, flip it open and call my best friend just to irritate him.
"Mimi, we're about to get out and stroll down the red carpet," I say loud enough for him to hear. "Where's your car now?" Mimi's dad is an actor too. He's always out of town working, which Mimi loves because then she can run all over her entertainment-lawyer mom. Her dad is the strict one in her family. For me, it's Mom. She's the only grown-up in my family.
Our limo stops moving. The driver gets out and walks around to the passenger door.
"We're here, Mimi. I'll see you in a few minutes." I hang up and slip the phone into my gold evening bag.
Cameras flashing, the media are practically climbing all over the limo. As usual, my mom starts complaining. But if the media isn't dogging her, her publicist comes up with something to get their attention, which isn't hard to do with my dad's constant legal battles. I just don't get Mom sometimes.
Mom claims she doesn't really like being in the spotlight and the center of attention, but me, I love it. I'm a Black American Princess and I'm not ashamed to admit it. I take pleasure in being pampered and waited on. Mostly, I love to shop and be able to purchase anything I want without ever looking at a price tag.
"I wish I had a cigarette," Mom blurts. "I'm so nervous."
I reach over, taking her hand in mine. "Don't worry about it. I hope you win, but even if you don't, it's still okay. At least you were nominated."
She smiled. "I know what you're saying, sweetie. And you're right, but I do want to win, Divine. I want this so badly."
"I know." Deep down, I want it just as bad as she does. I want Mom to win because then I'll have something to hold over that stupid Natalia Moon's head. Her mother is singer Tyler Winters. As far as I'm concerned, the woman couldn't sing a note even if she bought and paid for it. And I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one who thinks so, because she's never been nominated for a Grammy.
The door to the limo opens.
Leo, our bodyguard, steps out first. He goes everywhere with us to protect us from our public. There are people out there who'll take it to the extreme to meet celebrities.
Mom's assistant Stella gets out of the car next. All around us, I hear people chanting, "Kara . . . Kara . . . Kara."
A few bystanders push forward, but are held back by thick, black velvet ropes and uniformed cops.
"They love you, Mom."
Smiling, my mom responds, "Yeah . . . they sure do, baby."
I'm so proud to have the Kara Matthews as my mom. She's thin and beautiful. Although she's only five feet five inches tall, she looks just like a model. I have her high cheekbones and smooth tawny complexion, but unfortunately, I'm also saddled with Jerome's full lips, bushy eyebrows and slanted eyes. Thankfully, I'm still cute.
"Hey, what about me? I got some fans out there. They didn't just come to see yo' mama. She wouldn't be where she is if it wasn't for me."
I glance over my shoulder at Jerome, but don't respond. He's such a loser.
I have a feeling that he's going to find a way to ruin this night for Mom. Then she'll get mad at him and they'll be arguing for the rest of the night.
I've overheard Mom talk about divorcing Jerome a few times, but when he gets ready to leave, she begs him to stay. I wish they'd just break up because Jerome brings out the worst in Mom, according to Stella.
Stella turns and gestures for me to get out of the limo. It's time to meet my public.
Okay . . . my mom's fans. But in a way, I'm famous too. I'm Hollywood royalty. Kara Matthews's beloved daughter.
I exit the limo with Leo's assistance. Jerome will follow me, getting out before Mom. She is always last. Her way of making an entrance, I suppose.
I spot a camera aimed in my direction. I smile and toss my dark, shoulder-length hair across my shoulders the very same way I've seen Mom do millions of times.
Mom makes her grand appearance on the red carpet amid cheers, handclapping and whistles. We pose for pictures.
Here we are, pretending to be this close and loving family.
What a joke!
I keep my practiced smile in place despite the blinding, flashing darts of light stabbing at my eyes. It's my duty to play up to the cameras, the fans and the media.
I can't imagine my life any other way.
After a few poses in front of the limo, we start down the red carpet. Whenever I can, I stand in front of my parents, grinning like the Cheshire Cat in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. I love being photographed and I know how to strike a perfect pose.
America's next top model -- right here. As soon as I turn eighteen, I'm auditioning for that show. Mom says I won't have to. She actually had the nerve to tell me that I could be working right now as a model. Only she won't let me because she's real big on education, so I have to finish school first. Talk about dangling a pot of gold in front of my face and snatching it away.
Stella and Leo march in front of us, leading the way to the doors of the convention center.
I'm walking in front of my parents, close enough to hear Mom's words to Jerome.
"Do you have to manhandle me? You nearly ripped off my arm back there when you grabbed me."
I notice that Mom is careful not to move her lips for fear some reporter might be able to read her words. She's always trying to keep up appearances.
"Just 'cause you up for some awards, don't start acting like you don't know me," Jerome warns. "I'm the man of the house. I run thangs . . ."
"You don't run nothing," Mom shoots back. "When is the last time anyone called you for a job?"
"Could you please stop arguing?" The words just rush out of my mouth. "You're embarrassing me."
We run into another group of photographers.
Mom stops and leans against Jerome, wrapping her arms around him and wearing what everyone in the industry calls her million-dollar smile.
Well, I'm not about to be outdone.
I insert myself between my parents, separating them while tilting my face just right so that my best side will be photographed -- just the way Mom taught me.
Jerome places his cold lips to my cheek, trying to show off for the media. After a few more photos he breezes past us and into the convention center.
"I hate him," I mutter under my breath.
"Don't say that, Divine. He's your daddy."
Mom pauses to be interviewed, so I reach into my purse and pull out my cell phone. Pressing the talk button, I place it to my ear. "Mimi, where are you?"
I give Mom a big hug in the press room after the awards. "I'm sorry you only won the Grammy for Contemporary R&B Album."
Smiling down at me, Mom holds the coveted award close to her breast. "Sugar, I'm just thankful for this one. That album didn't do as well as my others, so I'm amazed Living for You actually won. This validates me personally."
Looking high as a kite, Jerome clumsily drapes his arm around her. "Okay, baby girl . . . it's time for you to go home. Mama and Daddy wanna party."
Pouting, I look up at Mom. "Do I really have to leave right now? I wanted to hang out for a little while longer."
"Well, you ain't doin' nothing but going home," Jerome rudely interjects. Like I was talking to him in the first place. "I don' want you hanging round these li'l dudes. You too young. I don' wanna hafta kill nobody 'bout my shorty."
Mom tries the diplomatic approach. "I know how much you want to stay, but your daddy's right, hon. Besides, you have to go to school tomorrow and you're not exactly a morning person. We girls need our beauty rest."
"Mom, I know you can come up with something better than that. I'm cute -- losing one night of sleep won't hurt me. Why can't I just pop into one party at least? I don't have to stay long. Just enough to say I went. All the other kids at school will be talking about the parties they went to." I impatiently push away a stray curl from my face. "I'm not a baby. I'm almost fifteen."
Jerome bristles. "We know how old you are, Divine. We were there when you were born. Remember?"
I'm not ready to give up, so I keep pushing. "Then why can't I go for a little while? Mimi's dad is real strict but he's letting her go to the party with them at the House of Blues. Tomorrow's Valentine's Day. This can be one of my presents."
Mom places a gentle hand to my cheek. "Hon, we're not changing our minds. You're going home and that's final."
I release a long sigh in my frustration. My parents never let me have any fun. They're ruining my life.
Mom hugs me. This is her attempt to soothe me but the effort is totally wasted because I'm really mad at her.
"How about we go shopping tomorrow after school? We'll go to the Beverly Center and Rodeo Drive."
At the mention of shopping, my spirits lift some. If Mom insists on switching to Mom mode, then I plan to punish her by spending as much of her money as I can. This time it's really going to cost her big. "I want to go to Gucci and Louis Vuitton because I need to get a couple of new purses. Then I want to see the new collection at Iceberg."
"We can do that too," Mom promises. "Whatever you want."
"I don't have to go shopping with Stella, do I?" The last time we were to go shopping, Mom backed out to do a radio interview to promote her album.
"No, you don't," Mom assures me. "Tomorrow, you and I are going to spend some much-needed quality time together. I promise." She glances over her shoulder at Jerome. "Daddy's gonna join us if he's not too busy. Right?"
Jerome sends Mom a strange look I can't decipher.
I really don't want Jerome tagging along. All he ever does is complain about standing around while we try on clothes, or he fusses about how much money we spend. It isn't like we're spending any of his money. Mom is the one making paper.
"I might be able to make it but don't hold me to it."
I hope that Jerome's not able to join us. He's such a loser.
Stella comes over to where we're standing. "C'mon, Divine. It's time I got you home."
I glance over at Mom, giving her one last chance to change her mind. "I don't want to leave just yet. Nelly is right over there. Can I just go over there to meet him before I leave?"
"For what?" Jerome demands. "You better just take yo' lil fast tail home."
"You need to shut up. It's not even like that. I just want to meet him so that I can tell everyone that I met him." I don't include that my friend Rhyann and I have a fifty-dollar bet to see who'll meet him first.
He leans over and plants a kiss on my forehead. "You my baby girl. I'm just tryin' not to let you grow up too fast. You know I love you."
I push him away, no longer caring who's watching us. I don't need Jerome trying to act like a father now. "Leave me alone, Jerome. You are so not related to me."
"Sugar, don't do that," Mom whispers. "Remember, we've talked about this. Be nice to your daddy. There's a photographer in the corner watching us." Smiling, she adds, "Now give me a hug."
Embracing Mom, I feign a smile. This is really going to cost her big.
"I love you," she whispers.
Whatever. Right now, Mom's entering the loser zone in a big way.
Jerome purses his lips as if waiting for me to kiss him, but he'll turn blue and green before that ever happens. I walk off toward the nearest exit with Stella following. She makes a quick call to have our driver bring the limo around.
Without a word spoken between us, I climb into the limo, turn on the small television and settle back for the forty-five- minute drive home to Pacific Palisades.
Mom's face appears on the small screen.
"Could you turn that up, please?"
Stella turns up the volume.
It's a clip of Mom's interview after her Grammy win. I smile. "She looks real happy, doesn't she?"
"Yes, she does," Stella murmurs. "I believe her whole world is going to change after tonight."
I like seeing my mom happy. Lately though, I've noticed that she spends a lot of time in her bedroom with the door locked. The few times I've put my face to the door I've smelled the putrid odor of marijuana. I know Jerome has been smoking the stuff for years. But for Mom I think this is something new.
I've never told anyone because Stella and Mom are always saying, "What's done at home stays at home. You never betray family."
It really bothers me that my parents smoke marijuana, especially Mom. Just last year, she was the keynote speaker at my school's drug-awareness program.
What a hypocrite.
It's all Jerome's fault.
His constant legal battles and a recent paternity suit have taken a toll on my mom. At least that's what I overheard Mom telling Stella a few days ago.
"Do you think Mom will divorce Jerome?"
Stella put away her cell phone. "Divine, you don't need to worry yourself with grown-up matters."
"Well, I hope she does," I confess. "Mom would be much happier if she did."
"Let's not talk about this right now," Stella whispers. "Divine, you really need to be very careful about what you say in public."
A small sigh escapes me. The last thing I need right now is another lecture, especially one from a nonparent. Just because she and Mom grew up together, Stella thinks she can boss me around, but she's nothing more than the help as far as I'm concerned. She better be glad I halfway like her because otherwise she would've been fired a long time ago.
Copyright © 2006 by Jacquelin Thomas